Downtown Historic Staunton, Virginia. Image credit MargJohnsonVA via Shutterstock

11 Top-Rated Small Towns In Virginia

Treat yourself to a near-perfect ambiance in the gorgeous state of Virginia. The many top-rated small towns in Virginia embody the carefree and liberal attitude of the early American livelihood. Virginia was where the first permanent English settlement in the New World was constructed. Moreover, it is where Patrick Henry’s outcry, "Give me liberty or give me death!" in Richmond, ignited the many battles of the Civil War that won America its independence. So why not relive the very first Thanksgiving in the state where Thanksgiving started as you explore the top-rated small towns in Virginia?


Historic downtown of Lexington.
Historic downtown of Lexington, Virginia. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

Tucked in the Shenandoah Valley on the Maury River’s banks, Lexington was once home to the Monacan, Saponi, and Tutelo tribes long before Scottish, Irish, and German pioneers established a settlement in the region. Today, the Sam Houston Wayside—in honor of Sam Houston, former governor of Tennessee and Texas—and Goshen Pass Wayside—a homage to former Virginia Military Institute (VMI) professor Matthew Fontaine Maury—commemorate the pivotal heroes of American history.

The town is most famous for a 215-foot-high limestone arch aptly called the Natural Bridge. Close by, McCormick Farm exhibits the mechanical reaper prototype that kick-started modern industrial agriculture. Meanwhile, the Miller’s House Museum has lessons on the industrial and transportation heritage at Jordan’s Point. The Abigail Inn, The Georges, and Grace House have excellent accommodations for visitors everywhere.


Buildings along Beverley St in Downtown Historic Staunton, Virginia.
Downtown Historic Staunton, Virginia. Image credit Kyle J Little via

About 40 minutes from Lexington, the town of Staunton can be toured via an old-school locomotive on the Virginia Scenic Railway. From there, one can travel across the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. As one of the oldest cities west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can learn all about Staunton’s past at the Frontier Culture Museum. The museum also hosts performances illustrating the life and customs of the inhabitants of the Shenandoah Valley.

Additionally, visitors can appreciate President Woodrow Wilson in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum. Learn more about the early migrations from Philadelphia at Virginia’s Heritage Migration Route. Then get comfortable at the avid hotel Staunton, Howard Johnson by Wyndham, or The Blackburn Inn and Conference Center.


Wild ponies swim, Chincoteague, Virginia.
Wild ponies swim, Chincoteague, Virginia. Image credit Delmas Lehman via Shutterstock

Located on the island of the same name, Chincoteague is a sublime seaside town. Visitors can gawk at the oyster-industry artifacts, model boats, and shipwreck dioramas in the Museum of Chincoteague Island. Meanwhile, the Assateague Lighthouse has excellent, towering views of the many historic or modern vessels around the island. If you get lucky, you might spot a NASA rocket launched from Wallops Island delivering supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

More importantly, Chincoteague is a gateway to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the adjacent Assateague Island. There, wild ponies roam majestically through the warm beaches and inland. You can also participate in crabbing and clamming on the wide beaches. To top it off, you will want to spend your trip at the Anchor Inn, Marina Bay Hotel & Suites, or The Reef.


St. Lukes Church and Cemetery in Smithfield, Virginia.
St. Lukes Church and Cemetery in Smithfield, Virginia.

The historic town of Smithfield is a charming place to experience the early American lifestyle. With all the 18th and 19th-century architecture, one can step back in time and explore Windsor Castle Park. The Isle of Wight County Museum also serves to thrust visitors back in time, while also being home to the world's oldest ham since 1902. A merry band of bronze statues—made by acclaimed sculptor George Lundeen—greets visitors and residents alike.

Because of the town’s position along the Pagan River, Smithfield was a brief site of contention during the American Civil War. St. Luke’s Historic Church Museum, Virginia’s oldest brick church, stands as a monument of Virginia’s American spirit. Lastly, the historic Smithfield Inn and the Mansion On Main Bed and Breakfast are some of the finest lodgings you can lounge at.


The Virginia Creeper Trail, Abingdon, Virginia.
The Virginia Creeper Trail, Abingdon, Virginia. Image credit FotoKina via Shutterstock

Abingdon is located on what was called the Great Wagon Road or the Great Road—a wilderness route that many pioneers used to navigate the Blue Ridge Mountains. Nowadays, visitors can travel about two hours from Roanoke to get a hands-on experience of traversing the 2,190-mile footpath of the Appalachian Trail. This iconic pathway winds from Whitetop Laurel Creek to the cloud-bristling Mount Rogers and onwards to the ridgelines above Burkes Garden.

Trailblazers might enjoy wandering into the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile trail connecting Abingdon with its sister city, Damascus. Feel free to travel further into the ferocious Virginian landscape and kayak on the expansive Holston Lake. Perhaps you want to explore the Great Channels, a labyrinth of boulders and crevices where secrets await. When night rises from the east, sleep the sleep of the blissful at A Tailor’s Lodging, Black’s Fort Inn, or Creeper’s End Lodging.

Cape Charles

Beach homes in Cape Charles, Virginia.
Beach homes in Cape Charles, Virginia.

Since the days of the Thirteen Colonies, Cape Charles has remained a haven for travelers in one of the earliest colonized and busiest areas in the US. The Bay Coast Railroad has played a vital role in transforming the town into the tourist hub it is today. Take a jubilant splash where the waters of the vast Chesapeake Bay kiss the beaches of Cape Charles. Or stroll along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 17.6-mile structure spanning the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

You might fancy visiting the Cape Charles Memorial Library, the oldest library on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Likewise, the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge and Kiptopeke State Park are home to many flora and fauna. Remember to find lodgings first at the Northampton Hotel, Fig Street Inn, or Hotel Cape Charles.


Downtown street in Onancock, Virginia.
Downtown Onancock, Virginia.

Famed explorer John Smith called Onancock "the Gem of the Eastern Shore." To this day, the quaint town about 40 minutes from Chincoteague continues to shine along the beach. Visitors can watch an international film once a month in the Roseland Theatre, or learn all about Onancock’s laidback and simple history in the maritime museum. You can paddle through the vast and placid Onancock Creek, trickling out into the vast Chesapeake Bay.

Or explore numerous points like Onley Point and Bailey Point for scenic views of the area. You can also charter a ferry for the faraway Tangier Island every day from May to October. Survey the wonderfully artistic galleries and artisan studios that Onancock is famous for. Most of all, remember to book a room at The Spinning Wheel Bed & Breakfast, The Inn at Onancock, or The Charlotte Hotel.


The Longwood University Campus in Farmville, Virginia.
The Longwood University Campus in Farmville, Virginia.

Farmville is home to two prestigious universities, Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College. Only 65 miles west of Richmond, history buffs will enjoy seeing the High Bridge Trail State Park and Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park, two landmarks that commemorate the last Civil War battles. The nearby Appomattox Court House, where Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant negotiated the terms to end the Civil War, is also a site worth detouring. 

Speaking of inspiration, the Robert Russa Moton Museum praises and champions the cause of Barbara Rose Johns Powell, a 16-year-old student who led a strike against the Robert Russa Moton High School in 1951. This act later revolutionized Civil Rights awareness for years to come. Consider spending weekends in this fine town, notably in the Hotel Weyanoke, Hilton Tru, or The Manor Cottages.


A couple walks through charming Fredericksburg, Virginia, past a Civil War Museum
Old town Fredericksburg, Virginia. Image credit James Kirkikis via Shutterstock

Fredericksburg is the site of the last American Civil War conflict. Four fundamental battles took place in Fredericksburg. First, a ferocious battle in the whole of Fredericksburg in 1862. Second, the one in nearby Chancellorsville in 1863. Next was the Battle of Wilderness (1864). Lastly, the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse (1864). Memorabilia of the wars between the Confederate and Union soldiers are dotted all over the Rappahannock River. But visitors can head to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park to pay homage to the 15,000 Union soldiers buried there.

Visitors might also be intrigued by the Mary Washington House, Ferry Farm, and Historic Kenmore, which have personal and historic significance to President George Washington and his family members. Continue exploring Fredericksburg after getting acquainted with The Silk Mill, Kenmore Inn, or Silver Collection Hotel.


Downtown Luray in Virginia
Downtown Luray, Virginia.

About 90 miles west of Washington, DC, the town of Luray is a spelunker’s paradise. The nation-praised Luray Caverns is the largest cave system in the eastern US, where cathedral-sized chambers are covered with stalagmites and stalactites. Among the many attractions around that geological marvel is the Stonyman Mining Company Gem Sluice, where kids and adults can get a hands-on experience of old-school, pioneering sluicing.

If you prefer to stay away from the underworld, kayak or boat at Hawksbill Creek and Lake Arrowhead. Hike along Old Rag Mountain for panoramic vistas of the Shenandoah Valley. While walking through Luray’s quiet streets, listen to the 47 cast bells in the Luray Singing Tower, also known as the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial. Finally, schedule a long respite in The Hawksbill House, Cardinal Inn, or Hotel Laurance.


Waterfront View in Historic Occoquan, Virginia
Historic Waterfront Occoquan, Virginia. Image credit Cheryl Velez via

Occoquan sits placidly on the vibrant banks of the Occoquan River. The entire town is a designated Historic District, where a plethora of important though small events transpired. John Smith visited Occoquan when it was a Doeg settlement called Tauxenent. Thomas Jefferson also bypassed this quaint and quiet town. These days, Occoquan is renowned for its plentiful grist mills, which can all be studied at the Mill House Museum.

River Mill Park and Lake Ridge Park are marvelous sites to saunter and play. You might also enjoy walking the historic Nathaniel Ellicott Bridge, which connects Occoquan to Fairfax County. Watch out for the many historical markers—from Civil War trails to well-preserved Victorian architecture—that riddle the well-preserved streets of Occoquan.

When visiting Virginia, you will feel like the first people who came from the Old World to seek opportunities and adventure in the New World. Whether you are savoring the sun and fun at seaside towns like Cape Charles, spelunking through the deep caverns of Luray, or reliving the hectic battles and epic moments in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is not short nor shy of giving travelers the experience of a lifetime. So play John Denver’s "Take Me Home, Country Road" as you brave the heavenly landscapes of Virginia.

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